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Posted on 08-20-2017

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is characterized by neurological signs described as "crawling", "itching",  "pins and needles" and "aching" deep in the legs along. Also, uncontrollable urges to constantly move and reposition the legs is a hallmark sign of RLS. This condition affects approximately 15% of the U.S. population.

 There are several mechanisms by which acupuncture may benefit RLS sufferers. The most widely accepted is that the insertion of needles into specific points on the body and along the ear, stimulates the parts of the brain involved in RLS thereby “closing the gate” on disturbed or irritated nerve flow from the legs up to our higher centers. Another benefit is related to the increase in circulating endorphins after an acupuncture treatment. These chemicals have an analgesic effect that explain the benefit of acupuncture for many other chronic pain conditions in addition to RLS.

In its early stages, the diagnosis of RLS can be quite challenging. In diabetics, signs of peripheral neuritis such as numbness and tingling in the legs and the feet are often confused with RLS. If you are an otherwise healthy person and suspect that you may have signs of RLS developing, it is important to know that iron deficiencies are a common cause of RLS like symptoms. Therefore, a simple blood test may disclose this. Proper supplementation would then result in a quick resolution of the RLS symptoms.

Another condition comparable to RLS is known as PLMD or "periodic limb movement disorder”. Studies have shown that 80% of RLS sufferers also have signs of PLMD.  It does appear that at least 20% of RLS patients suffer only from neurological issues often described as ‘crawling’ or "tingling" in the legs without the uncontrollable urge to constantly move or reposition the legs. Another primary differentiating factor is that symptoms of PLMD seem to occur early in the sleep cycle with the person unaware of the involuntary movements. On the other hand, RLS sufferers are very aware of the symptoms that usually keep them awake or unable to sleep soundly. The bottom line is, if you have to be told that you wiggle or thrash your legs during sleep and are not aware of it and experience no pain or neuropathy then you probably don’t have RLS.

The medical approach to treating RLS is  limited and often includes the administration of Ropinirole (often used for Parkinson’s) and Gabapentin, an anti-seizure drug,  to treat symptoms of pain, stiffness and loss of neuromuscular control. Tonic water which contains quinine has been an effective home remedy when cramps are one of the symptoms.  Understanding that the primary difference in RLS and PLMD is that the symptoms of RLS usually occur very quickly when you first lie down and try to relax, is important from a treatment standpoint. If caught early on, drugless and natural interventions like acupuncture and chiropractic have a much higher chance of being successful. If you have any questions about natural treatment options for RLS, please call Dr. Ken Smith at 251-621-2224.

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